Events center on table
WORTHINGTON -- An event center with an attached hotel may be in the cards for Worthington following a memorandum of understanding (MOU) approved Monday night by the Worthington City Council.
Council members unanimously approved the MOU, which would give Ruhr Development of Plymouth exclusive right to negotiate with the city on the proposed event center project. The action was taken following 1½ years of meetings by the Event Center Committee, which has worked on behalf of the city to explore the feasibility of such a facility's construction.
After conducting numerous meetings with local interested parties -- including, as Mayor Alan Oberloh pointed out, local hospitality companies -- the Event Center Committee determined:
* The center should be conducted in Prairie Expo First Addition;
* The center should have occupancy of no less than 400 people;
* The center should only include a catering kitchen;
* The daily operation of the center should be contracted out; and
* The center should be attached to a hotel to assure its long-term success.
The committee, after receiving council approval, advertised Request for Qualifications (RFQs) in four regional newspapers to gauge interest of the hospitality industry in partnering with the city for the proposed project, a city memo states. Ruhr Development, along with Hegg Companies of Sioux Falls, S.D., each submitted RFQs to the committee, which recommended working with Ruhr.
"One of the first things is that Ruhr has some experience with the town," explained Ken Moser, the Events Center Committee's chairman. "He knows the area, he knows the town, and we feel very comfortable with that."
A tour of a Ruhr-developed event center with attached hotel in Fergus Falls was impressive, Moser said. It was noted that after initial wariness, existing hotels in that city were pleased with the new development, as large-scale events brought overflow visitors into their establishments.
Moser indicated the events center building would be "portionable" and have the capability to be separated into three and six rooms. As for the occupancy number, Moser said it was a figure agreed upon by both parties.
As part of the MOU, Ruhr will provide the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce with conceptual renderings of the proposed project and construction estimates for promotion of the half-cent sales tax the city plans to present to residents in November. The MOU states that "if the half-cent sales tax is not approved, or negotiations fail between both parties, the City would reimburse Ruhr the costs it incurred in preparation of the conceptual renderings at an amount not to exceed $2,500."
Alderman Lyle Ten Haken expressed concern with any city suggestion that the half-cent sales tax was the only alternative for funding the project. It was agreed, however, that the MOU didn't necessarily bind the city to doing the event center project with exclusively half-cent sales tax dollars.
Moser expressed confidence that a new event center facility would be a significant asset to Worthington.
"If it looks half as good as it looks in drawings so far, it's going to be a fantastic facility," he said, adding later: "It just opens up a whole new avenue of marketing Worthington."
In a related matter Monday, council members voted to table a resolution authorizing the placement of the half-cent sales tax question on the Nov. 4 ballot. Several council members expressed concern with the wording of the question, which currently states as written, "May the City of Worthington impose a one-half of one percent local sales tax within the City of Worthington?"
"I think we need to be as specific as we can," Oberloh said.
"If I walked in (without knowing particulars), I'd vote no," Alderman Ron Wood added. "When a citizen walks in, it's not identifying what it's for."
City Attorney Mark Shepherd will investigate how the city may specifically word the question without facing difficulty with the state. The half-cent sales tax measure is being offered through legislative approval.